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12 May 2021
2021 05 May

VCCC Executive Director's Message May 2021

  • Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre
  • Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre
  • MRFF

Lightening the burden of cancer with strong leadership

Imagine if 20 senior cancer clinician researchers stepped outside their organisational roles to work strategically across multiple institutions to identify and tackle the big issues. Could they galvanise efforts across disciplines? Would that make a difference?

This is the reality of the VCCC’s distributed leadership model and I believe it to be a unique strength of the alliance. With consumers at the heart, it gives structure for us to work across traditional boundaries to focus on the complete cancer pathway.

The distributed leadership team readily take on challenges in addition to their demanding research and clinical roles at VCCC member organisations. They are passionately focussed on where they can make the most difference, and they inform our knowledge in multiple tumour streams, health services research, primary care, cancer nursing, cancer education, palliative care, clinical trials, regional oncology, and cancer immunotherapy.

I was reminded of just how critical an engine room it is when I attended the VCCC Distributed Leadership Summit last month. Together we are building a base of implementation science - closing the gap between what we know and what we do. At the summit we also shared ideas and opportunities with the Medical Research Futures Fund team at University of Melbourne. In the next few weeks, we will welcome two new distributed leadership program managers to our staff team to help convert the potential to reality.

Research & Education Lead new appointment

This month, we are thrilled to welcome Professor Constantine Tam, as he takes the baton from Professor Andrew Roberts as VCCC Research & Education (R&E) Lead, Haematology. Con is the Clinical Lead for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) and Low-Grade Lymphoma at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Royal Melbourne Hospital and Professor of Haematology at the University of Melbourne.

As we welcome Con, I know you will also join me in thanking Andrew for the very significant role he has played, both as one of the first R&E Leads for the VCCC and as our ongoing Chair of the Cancer Research Advisory Committee.

From our earliest days, R&E Leads have sought to identify the ‘big challenges’, identifying possibilities to improve outcomes for patients, and plugging in the power of collaboration to make a significant and tangible difference in their field. Andrew has been exceptional in this regard whilst also shaping the entrepreneurial and collaborative spirit of the alliance broadly.

I am also delighted to now have Andrew’s vision as a new Board Director for the VCCC. Andrew will replace Professor Doug Hilton AO as WEHI’s representative on the board.

Doug was an inaugural director of the VCCC and has made an enormous contribution to its development during the past 10 years ensuring both a physical presence for excellence in cancer research and care in Melbourne and a thriving alliance regarded as an exemplar for collaboration nationwide. As Director of WEHI, Doug will continue to have significant input to the VCCC alliance and our mission of research-led patient care.

Professor Mark Rosenthal also leaves the distributed leadership team after fulfilling many of the aspirations in the Strategic Research Plan clinical trials expansion program. Much has been achieved for patients, particularly in the developing areas of registry trials, teletrials and trials in adolescents and young adults under Mark’s stewardship. What really strikes me about the impact of Mark’s leadership is the combination of innovation and inclusiveness, with major expansion in VCCC’s networking in cancer clinical trials across Victoria that now includes Cancer Council Victoria, Melbourne Academic Centre for Health and the Regional Trials Network.

National Cancer Plan Roundtable

Cancer Australia convened a Ministerial Roundtable at Parliament House, Canberra last month, a first step in the development of a ten-year Australian Cancer Plan.

I was invited to speak at the roundtable and outline priorities in the area of research and data. One of the clear lessons from the COVID-19 crisis is a requirement for coordinated national approaches to solve complex health problems. Multiple jurisdictions and competing priorities of state and federal governments have proved problematic, so discussions on a national approach to cancer are timely.

There is an urgent requirement to adopt a national approach to data linkage, seizing the opportunity to capitalise on our strong research base by developing clinical data access and linkage across clinical datasets.

Also urgent is the requirement to tackle the disparities in outcomes among cancer types and many population groups including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is a burning issue for all of us to ensure that Australians can expect parity of care no matter where they are or how they encounter the health system. Over the next two years, we can expect broad consultation and a process to develop the national cancer plan. 

Federal Budget 2021-2022

This week saw the release of the Federal Budget.  It was important to see more funding for cancer screening and I was particularly pleased to see commitments to accelerate translation of biomedical research through Patent Box and other taxation initiatives to support venture capital investment. 

In Australia and Victoria, we have outstanding biomedical research, especially in cancer.  However, our ability to translate that research into practice through commercialisation lags behind similar countries. Together with important initiatives of the Victorian Government including the Breakthrough Fund, we should begin to see more start-up companies and discoveries moving on a path to benefit patients. 

Despite these initiatives, it is a tough time in medical and cancer research in Australia, particularly given the huge financial pressures on our universities generated by the pandemic.  We must look to get our international students back to learn, research, and add so much to our vibrant academic and broader community.


Prof Grant McArthur
Executive Director